Delaware hasn’t seen a gas tax adjustment since 1995 but Democrats are hoping, for the third year in a row, to get a 10 cent increase.
Do you find yourself driving twice a much as you did two years ago?
If you’re not a teenager that just got your first car, the answer for most of us is no. Despite the fact the price of gas is down over 50 percent in the past two years, most of us haven’t made any major adjustments in our driving routines. In fact, most of us probably haven’t shifted our driving habits much since gas was upwards of $3 to $4 per gallon.
That’s why it continues to remain a good idea for Delaware to increase its modest gas tax.
In an ideal and perfect world, Congress would raise the federal gas tax, which has been stuck at 18.4 cents since 1993. But there’s no way the Republican majority will ever vote in favor of a dreaded tax increase, much less during an election year with anti-establishment bloodlust flowing through the party.
So it’s up to tiny Delaware, where hope was reborn last week when a group of Democratic lawmakers announced plans to push for legislation that would raise the state’s gasoline tax (which now stands at 23 cents per gallon) by 10 cents, albeit temporarily.
Delaware’s gas tax has remained stagnant since 1995, and with gas prices down $1.80 per gallon from just two years ago, surely consumers wouldn’t even notice the extra 10 cents, which would raise more than $50 million in much needed revenue a year.
The math seems to make sense to everyone except misguided Republicans, like Minority Leader Danny Short, who fan the flames of tax ignorance and claim gas stations would go out of business due to drivers revolting out of sticker shock.
For the arguments of anti-tax Republicans to work, you’d have to believe the $1.80 per gallon more we paid two years ago was affordable, but an extra dime today would be devastating to drivers.
Even with a 10 cent increase per gallon, Delaware’s gas tax would remain competitive with our neighbors. Pennsylvania’s gas tax is among the highest in the nation at 50.4 cents per gallon, while Maryland’s gas tax stands at 32.6 cents per gallon.
Only New Jersey’s gas tax would remain lower at 14.5 cents per gallon, but how many people would cross the bridge from Delaware to save 18 cents a gallon? Plus, the Garden State is facing a $15.7 billion shortfall in its transportation trust fund, so it’s hardly the model for good governance when it comes to infrastructure repair.
The low gas prices are thanks to the plummeting price of crude oil, which is now so cheap even pirates have stopped stealing it. And prices are likely to remain low for the foreseeable future, at least according to a study by Ball State University’s Center for Business and Economic Research.”Current low prices, increasing fuel efficiency of our vehicles and long-term decline in real tax revenues suggest this is a good time to enact such an increase,” Director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University Michael Hicks said. “More importantly, higher tax rates are not necessarily viewed negatively by businesses and residents.”
“The cost of driving 100 miles is now half what it was in the 1930s,” researchers wrote, noting that generally accepted economic models predict a modest increase in the gas tax “will have no appreciable impact on key measures of employment or GDP.”
In previous years, when gas tax negotiations have fallen flat, politicians responded by increasing prices at the Department of Motor Vehicles and tolls on Rt. 1. Despite that, the state still faces long-term funding problems for road maintenance and delayed projects, like fixing the state’s 48 structurally deficient bridges.”If we can’t do important things in election years then we shouldn’t be down there,” Rep. Sean Matthews, one of the sponsors of the legislation, naively told the Delaware State News.I wish Matthews’ colleagues had the same mindset. Instead, they’ll preach about personal responsibility and turn to more borrowing to fund road projects, passing the buck to my kid. But who knows, maybe by the time he’s 16, scientists will have figured out a way to make the transporters from Star Trek into a viable transportation option.
Sadly, I have more faith in that than a modest increase in the gas tax passing in Legislative Hall anytime soon.
Rob Tornoe is a cartoonist and WHYY contributor. Follow Rob on Twitter @RobTornoe